Minority Report: The boy who never came back
In the cast of Minority Report, Spielberg essentially took an unimportant short story by Phillip K Dick and shaped it into an important film. – at least important in the Spielberg mythology.
Perhaps subconsciously, Spielberg is telling us fans: “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.”
We return to a theme Spielberg started in AI and continued in Catch Me If you Can: a child put at risk because of the failings of the parents.
In AI, the father purchases the artificial boy to help heal the mother’s loss, but soon turns on the Frankenstein monster. The mother sets the boy free mistakenly believing she is doing him a kindness.
In Minority Report, the father merely turns his back for a moment leaving the boy to be abducted by a stalker.
You have to wonder what Spielberg was thinking when he crafted this situation. After being stalked by an out of control fan, Spielberg must have been terrified to let any of his children out of sight even for a moment, thinking that if he does, the child will vanish.
Philip K Dick, of course, is the perfect vehicle for Spielberg’s paranoia. In Dick’s world, even God is a sadist, and must not be trusted.
The main character’s obsesses with the loss of his son leads him to drugs and divorce, and makes him a perfect victim for a murder plot – since the real killer in this futuristic murder mystery knows he can get to the father by using the son.
It is difficult to know who the surrogate for Spielberg is in this work, since the son has so little presence in this film. In each film Spielberg creates, a character is in need of rescuing, and may in fact serve as focus of Spielberg’s greatest fear of being abandoned or abducted. This even true of some of the earliest Spielberg films: ET, Close Encounters, Jaws, Poltergeist and serves as a kind of signature for films may have influenced such as Big.
In Minority Report we see a father figure that is pursued while at the same time pursuing his son.
The intensity of guilt in the father for blinking at the wrong time when the stalker strikes may reflect a similar “what if” in Spielberg as he fictionalizes what could have been had circumstances altered only slightly in his real life stalking situation.
As in Minority Report, Spielberg as father is supposed to be protector yet could have caused his children to suffer when he is the target of the attack.
On screen, we see a tormented father anguished over the loss and determined to get even with the man who he believes killed his son.
Would Spielberg – like the character played by Tom Cruise in Minority Report – kill the man who stalked and stole his child?
The answer is most likely yes.
But as in the fictional account, the man the hero would kill (and does kill accidentally afterwards) turns out not to have killed his son at all.
You can almost feel the subconscious thug of war going on in the filmmaker as he wrestles with his conscience over putting a man in jail for life – but worse, secretly wishing the man dead so as to pose no future threat.
While Spielberg struggles with his conscience in the subtext, he seems to tackle the fundamental question of his personal situation in the main plot: what if authority could stop a criminal for what he intended to do, based on some premonition of intent?
Here we see a direct connection between the threats made against Spielberg and the story he tells in the film.
Here we see a larger social conflict going on inside Spielberg and his work, trying to find that point at which justice might go too far in projecting a person’s intentions.
Is Spielberg trying through his art to find that place where he can confidently say legal intervention serves the social good, even if it crosses into a gray area of violating a person’s civil rights?
While AI had a social element in it much starker and perhaps more close association with the terror Spielberg felt in real life. In AI we see not talk of civil rights. We see only the fascistic-like mob destroying machines that have somehow performed better than humans could.
Spielberg still seems hurt by the threat and the story paints humanity as jealous and demeaning, a thoughtless and destructive species bent on savagely attacking anything that is different, whether these be machines or Jews.
While Minority Report expresses the same level of panicked desperation, it takes a step back from where AI brought us, the film and the filmmaker struggling to find a comfortable level where justice can be served without putting the innocent at risk.